Politics

Federal Prisons Release Inmates on Wrong Days

Senate Judiciary chair hammers correction officials' refusal to implement fixes

Nearly a year after the Justice Department’s inspector general called out the federal prison system for releasing 157 inmates on the wrong day, officials still have not implemented a number of recommendations.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wants to know why.

“These errors have cost the taxpayers more than $1.3 million, not to mention the potential harm to the inmate, his or her family, and the community as a whole.”

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“These errors have cost the taxpayers more than $1.3 million, not to mention the potential harm to the inmate, his or her family, and the community as a whole,” the senator wrote in a letter to the acting director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. “While these errors represent a very small percentage of the total inmates properly released by the BOP, the cost of these unnecessary mistakes is significant.”

The BOP did not immediately respond to requests for comment by LifeZette.

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The report of the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found that the prison system held 152 inmates beyond their release dates between 2009 and 2014. In one case, a federal inmate spent 13 months behind bars after he was supposed to be released. The inmates overstayed their sentences by a combined 8,917 days.

Not including litigation costs and settlements to satisfy wrongful-imprisonment lawsuits, the excess incarceration cost taxpayers $669,814, according to Grassley’s office. Lawsuit settlements cost another $680,000.

The Bureau of Prisons made the opposite mistake in five other cases — inadvertently sending inmates home early, including one let out more than a year in advance of his release date.

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The 157 wrongful releases — attributed to human error — actually represented an improvement over the period from 1999 through 2004, when the bureau released 344 inmates on the wrong dates.

William Otis, a criminal justice expert who served as special counsel to former President George H.W. Bush, praised Grassley for following up.

“Sen. Grassley’s right on the money, and I applaud him,” he said.

Otis said that considering parole has been abolished for anyone convicted after 1984, mistaken releases — whether too early or too late — should not happen.

“Sentencings aren’t hard to calculate,” he said. “There shouldn’t be that much difficulty. I’m at a little bit of a loss as to why … There’s an injustice either way.”

The Inspector General’s Office report found that 127 of the 157 releases occurred due to efforts by the Designation and Sentencing Commutation Center, while the other 30 were mistakes made at prison facilities.

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Otis said while mistaken releases are a problem, the total number pales in comparison to tens of thousands of prisoners whose incarceration has been cut short by decisions to retroactively reduce punishment for inmates who would have received shorter prison terms had more lenient rules been in place when they committed their crimes.

“We need to keep the eye on the big picture,” he said. “The big picture is what the Sentencing Commission has been doing in recent years — the early release of tens of thousands of dangerous drug dealers.”

Those early releases have contributed to the “shocking increases in murder” over the past two years, Otis said.

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